The Purloined Library

Sometimes, crime really does pay

| September-October 2008

On the last day of school, my teacher let me stay in the classroom all by myself during lunch. I was a well-behaved student, and she trusted me. Once I was alone, I opened a cabinet, pulled out a dictionary and a fifth-grade social studies book titled American Nation, and put them in my backpack. I also took a couple of erasers, some pencils, and a ruler.

When the teacher returned with the rest of the class, she asked all of us to sit down so we could watch a movie. I wiggled in my seat and wiped the sweat from my hands. When the bell rang, I picked up my backpack and sped out of class.

I ran all the way home—past the liquor store, the furniture store with the creepy salesmen, and the nudie bar—and slammed the front door behind me. I opened my backpack and admired the thickness of the dictionary and the rustle of its pages; I touched the glossy cover of the social studies textbook, with its pictures of smiling Americans. I smelled the new erasers and then placed them in a drawer with the ruler and the pencils.

At five o’clock, when my father came home, I held up the dictionary and American Nation and said, “Dad, look what the teacher gave me!”

“What are they?” he asked in Spanish.

“This is a book to look up what words mean and how they’re spelled, and this one is about the U.S.”

chantal johannesson_1
9/10/2008 12:15:58 AM

I truly enjoyed reading this article because of the strong message that it sends about how words bind us and keep us together. Education empowers us and opens doors for us that we sometimes never imagined was possible. Very often we take for granted that language is the key to communication and to helping move our global community forward. As a librarian in training who completely believes in the power of books and of libraries, this story has reaffirmed my convictions and commitment to making sure that every person has access to a library in their communities.